Posted by: fburnett | March 30, 2008

Allergies and the internet?

Reading an article on the similarities of allergies and the content filtration (on the Internet) debate that rages in education today, I was confused how the author could even put the two in the same category. As a culinary educator to teens who are exposed to new foods daily and for the first time, I’ve seen my share of anaphylactic shock! Believe me, both are an educators nightmare: teaching new technology with outdated parameters and the food allergy…but when you watch your student struggling for his breath to hold onto life, I would have to say, allergies are extremely more dangerous then the Internet-hands down-no debate. Although this article does not compare the two, he just points out parallels. The allergies buzzword just happened to hit home and I felt the need to chime in.

I will blog on each separately. I don’t want to take away the well thought out content of this cool cat teachers’ blog of how children need a little exposure to some indecencies to teach right from wrong, and how upward mobile and forwardly thinking educators are just trying to do their jobs. I agree with the article 100%. I recently was in a masters class with a group of cohorts at a rural location outside the college. The location was an excellent technology high school campus.  The resources were available, but when my group tried to give presentations on certain technology applications (second life, you tube) we needed an access code and even that wouldn’t work for some. A better system needs to be put in place, but how this can be implemented is beyond me. I think the author is setting up good dialogue for the discussion.

OK, now lets talk about the allergy conundrum. In 2005, an article came out about the rise of allergies. After a diagnosis of my unusual Eosinophilic Esophagitis  (ee means abnormal numbers of eosinophils in the esophagus) rare disease in 2006, I became curious to find out more about allergies and how they relate to my disease. What I found was alarming.

Fact: More then 30% career bakers develop occupational asthma towards the end of their career.

When my doctor told me a few years ago that I had rhinitis and asthma, I accepted it as bearable, just uncomfortable. Then, two years ago I felt like I was having a heart attack. The emergency room Dr. said it must be a panic attack. Rx: take it easy and come back if it gets worse. The pain got worse and I couldn’t swallow without massive pain in my chest. Something was wrong, but x-rays and all the useless tests didn’t discover anything. Finally, my doctor sent me to a GI specialist.

The GI did an endoscopy and immediately afterwards said it looked like a severe case of yeast infection (huh?!). He took a biopsy and put me on antibiotics. Over the next few weeks the pain got worse. Finally, one month after the biopsy, I received a report that it was ee. The doctor gave me cortisone and within days all pain went away and I could start eating again. Had to be on some meds. for a while and was relieved a diagnosis was made. Now I had to find out what the food allergy was.

At the Allergist I discovered I had allergies to: wheat, rye, rice, barley and oats. The doctor took blood test and celiac was ruled out. How can this be? This is my career. Over 26 years baking professionally only to end it at the height of my career? These foods are the foods I am exposed to every day! Did he know what he was talking about? What was he saying? He told me to wear a mask when the allergies starts to get aggressive again, and if needed, use a steroid spray that will coat the esophagus. Maybe consider a new career track (ha, I laughed;).

Livable and bearable, I continue on with my career in baking. I teach cake decorating now, so I don’t have as much exposure to breads and flours like I use to, but it’s still disheartening to pass up on the chance to demo or make wonderful artisan breads and pastry. Life goes on.

When students discover they have a severe reaction to a particular food, I can relate to them personally. I convey to them that it’s not the end of a passion they’ve always had. This passion is just pushed into a new direction that might be even more fulfilling. Students in my class think if they can’t produce masterpieces like on “the food network” they won’t make it in the industry. I know a handful of bakers and pastry chefs (out of thousands) who will have time to produce “hobby” showpieces in two hours or less! I stress the need for good personal management and self regulation of time management skills, these are the most important prerequisites in any career (common sense is a given). Once the skill set is taught, it’s up to the student to use work ethics that use these management skills. 

Human systems are interesting and effective because they are resilient. Good designers allow for the reality of human strengths and weaknesses and factor both into their designs, as stated by McGee’s Musings here about technology. Contrastingly, students with food allergies see their health conditions of lifes’ little failures. As educators we need to realize this and do the same as they would in technology, teach of, and to, these failures.

Education in a simulated bakeshop, classroom, modern university or real-work environment is overall the same. Education is to make the student whole. My job as a teacher is to be a global steward of this planet. Bring the mindset of a young conscience to a higher level of thinking about who they are and how they fit in our environment with as much human exuberance as possible.

In the words of Robert F. Kennedy:

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

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